Women Make Better Leaders Finds New Research

August 23rd, 2013 No Comments Other

Despite the fact that women are still woefully underrepresented in top management positions, a new study conducted by researchers from Concordia University indicates that women may actually be better suited to wield positions of power than men.

The team of researchers from Concordia’s John Molson School of Business (JMSB) found that women currently make up only 3% of top executives among Fortune 500 companies.

Steven Appelbaum, management professor at JMSB, believes that this is due to the fact that women still tend to be perceived as inferior leaders, even though they often possess the qualities that make excellent senior managers.

“This ill-conceived notion needs to change – and fast. At the current rate, we won’t see gender equality in the boardroom until 2081,” says Appelbaum.

The researchers investigated how women are held back by factors such as inadequate evaluation systems; outdated stereotypes and an office culture that doesn’t allow for a work-life balance.

The study, “Upward Mobility for Women Managers: Styles and Perceptions,” was published in Industrial and Commercial Training, and found that organizations need a leadership style that is characterized by traditionally female qualities, such as concern for others.

Out of all leadership styles that were evaluated, “transformational leadership,” which aims to connect to employees’ sense of self and enhance performance through an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, was found to be the most desirable, and these qualities come more naturally to women than men.

Froswa Booker-Drew, PhD candidate in Leadership and Change at Antioch University, author of Rules of Engagement and CEO and founder of Soulstice Consultancy, believes that encouraging women to assume positions of leadership early on in school and college is one way to tackle the underrepresentation of women in top management positions.

“I think the challenge is helping women to begin to see other career options beyond service that they can move into and at the same time, develop leadership skills,” she says.

“It is important to encourage young women in college to assume leadership roles on campus. As soon as I started college, I ran for dorm president and won. It was from there I assumed a series of roles that not only built my understanding of leadership, but more importantly, how to connect with others so that they would be willing to follow.”

She also points out that fostering a sense of leadership at home through example is very important if outdated stereotypes are to be addressed.

“As a mother of a daughter, I think leadership begins at home. I am raising my daughter to see herself not as unequal and inadequate but with talents that the world needs,” says Booker-Drew.

“There are so many variables involved and my daughter is fortunate to see a mother who is pursuing her dreams and obtaining a terminal degree, and yet, she is still bombarded with images on television of women who do not demonstrate leadership.

Shows like Bad Girls Club, the Housewives series and others tend to show very few women that are in leadership roles. The saying is true, “If you can see it, you can believe it.” Our young women don’t see it on television or even in their everyday realities. We have to change that”

Another study that looked at the lack of representation of women in the upper echelons of American business and government was conducted by researchers at the University of Richmond.

Jeffrey M. Pollack, Assistant Professor of Management at the university’s Robins School of Business, points out that one of the study’s key findings was that enabling female students to see leadership as an ability that can be developed, increases the likelihood that they will respond well to setbacks in their pursuit of leadership positions.

“We found that for women who had low self-efficacy as a leader, believing that leadership ability can be improved is extremely important,” says Pollack.

“For educators seeking to enable women to become leaders, we suggest that the take-home message should be that leaders are “made” not “born. With time and effort, leadership ability can be improved.”


Marianne Stenger is a London-based freelance writer and journalist with extensive experience covering all things learning and development. She’s particularly interested in the psychology of learning and how technology is changing the way we learn. Her articles have been featured by the likes of ABC Education, The Huffington Post, Lifehacker, and Psych Central. Follow her on Twitter @MarianneStenger.

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